Judge dismisses lawsuit against union filed by hotel

UNION: Boycotts, picket lines protected by the Constitution.

August 9, 2011 

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit over a boycott of a downtown Anchorage hotel after finding union activities that cost the hotel operator hundreds of thousands of dollars are protected by federal law.

The operator of the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa alleged in its lawsuit that the union's call to boycott was damaging to the hotel and could be perceived as a threat to the safety to potential clients and guests.

But U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland ruled last week that the union's actions are protected either by the U.S. Constitution or the National Labor Relations Act.

"The remarks to potential guests about having to cross picket lines cannot possibly be perceived as threats," the judge said.

Karl Terrell, an attorney representing the Sheraton Anchorage, said the hotel's operator believes the judge erred in dismissing the lawsuit and is considering an appeal.

"The hotel did in fact suffer real monetary losses as a result of groups who cancelled planned meetings at the hotel. These cancellations were caused by what the hotel believes to have been unlawful, interfering conduct by the union," Terrell said in an email to The Associated Press.

Unite Here Local 878 has been engaged in a long-term campaign on behalf of about 150 hotel workers. Union organizer Matthew Fennell said issues include job security, increased health care costs and workload. For example, housekeepers at the hotel are required to clean 17 rooms during an eight-hour shift, up from 15.

Workers have been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2009.

Ashford TRS Nickel, LLC, the operator of the hotel, said in the lawsuit that the union has both defamed it and interfered with its ability to conduct business. The lawsuit says the union's call to boycott the hotel has cost it $638,372 in revenues with the cancellation of numerous groups, including the Louisiana Center for Women and Government, the Alaska Primary Care Association and the Western States Communication Association.

Fennell said the union has a pending lawsuit against the hotel alleging numerous unfair labor practices. It also alleges that four union activists were fired in 2010 after passing out fliers urging people not to enter the hotel because it was being boycotted.

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